I don’t think Sydney knows what it’s doing at this point. The way the city has been run from a licensing and a policing perspective has been very restrictive. It’s affected the amount of money people are spending when they go out and how long they go out for.

The lockout laws have almost become a tagline for any business that is failing; everyone likes to use them as an excuse. We all know they’ve pulled $16 billion out of the economy. But at the same time, I think there’s still a thriving hospitality market in the city. We’ve got one of the best cocktail cultures in the world and some of the best bartenders.

People want diversity. They want to be able to have a rum cocktail at 4pm at Lobo Plantation and have a negroni at 2am at Big Poppa’s. The city is definitely still looking for those options. Poppa’s trades late into the night and it’s more popular now than ever. It’s just a matter of figuring out how you can create a venue like that in a heavily regulated market.

Good operators are able to weather the storm, but even they’re struggling to be able to do the most basic things. It took six months to get a primary service authorisation for Bartolo. The amount of time it takes to get approvals makes it hard to pay rent, pay staff and deal with the other operational costs.

The late-night trading development control plan (DCP) provisions are a great step from the council, but the council has never really been the problem. It’s more at a state level and a police level. There needs to be a more collaborative process between the police, the regulatory bodies and operators.

It used to be a case-by-case consultation, now, blanket laws apply to everyone. A more thought-out collaborative process would look at ways to hold bad operators accountable. We all agree we need to keep consumers safe, but taking away their freedom isn’t really going to do that.

They’ve tried to deal with a cultural problem with regulation and it hasn’t truly addressed the problem. People are still going to drink and be violent if they’re violent people.

One of the areas they’ve addressed with the DCP is Crown Street in Surry Hills, where Bartolo is. They’re going to do automatic trading on development applications (DA) on the strip until 2am because they’ve realised it’s a hard area to operate in. It’s an area they want to increase foot traffic in; they want people to see it as a vibrant, neighbourhood destination.

It’s good the council is taking steps with the DCP and DA, but unless the state government, the police force and the liquor board come on side, the potential benefits won’t come to fruition.

I’d like to see a more mature consumer — people who are able to control their behaviour and be responsible. I don’t think we’ll see that until we allow them the freedom to be able to make their own choices.

Put restrictions, punishments and sanctions in play if operators break the law, but allow them to operate when they want. Allow them to trade later in the night and open during the day. Allow uninhibited use of the footpath within reason. Allow us to open up so we can have more cultural diversity, so we can thrive and be an international city that offers great experiences. Give people the opportunity and we’ll have a better city.

This article originally featured in Hospitality’s September issue

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